Who’s Keeping Score?
As a parent, I love each of my three children. If you asked me which of them I loved the most, I wouldn’t be able to pick. In my heart I believe I love each of them the same. But, as most parents will tell you, that doesn’t mean I treat them each in exactly the same way. I have to know my children and I have to love them in a way that will communicate love to them as individuals. Bethany responds to words of affirmation and encouragement. I often tell her how proud of her I am. Joshua responds to hugs and physical contact. I still speak words of encouragement to him – and I think they do show love – but I had to learn to make physical contact (even though this is not my natural way of showing love) because it is something that affirmed him. Jonathan responds to quality time. He likes being with people and when he has spent time with you he opens up and will share his heart. It isn’t so significant what the activity is, it’s the time spent together.
But our children didn’t always think we loved each of them the same. On more than one occasion “You love her more!” or “That’s not fair!” were heard in the hallowed halls of our home. Sometimes our kids were convinced we played favorites. “I didn’t get to do that until I was thirteen!” “You told me I couldn’t go there but she gets to!” “Why can’t I stay up? They do!”
I suppose it’s human nature to keep score in relationships. In our minds we tally the points for different things people have done. We have this idea that relationships are fifty-fifty propositions. I do my part and you do yours and everything is fair and we’re all happy. The problem is, what I think is a loving thing to do may not seem loving to you. I’ve given myself a point, but you’ve taken one away or just not noticed. And it works the other way too. Things you’ve done don’t count by my standards and vice versa.
In relationships, when we keep score everyone loses. Rarely does keeping score in relationships end well. More often we feel hurt, unloved, under appreciated, neglected, resentful, alone. We think we are loving well and more than doing our part but the other person isn’t trying as hard or doing as much and we can’t understand why he/she sees it the other way around.
A better approach is to give one hundred per cent in relationships and assume the best about the other person’s effort. Even if he/she is slacking, we’re still called to love well. Paul wrote that we should consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). This doesn’t mean we become a doormat to let people do whatever they want to us, but it does mean that we seek to love unconditionally and selflessly. We stop worrying about what the other person is or isn’t doing to love us and we focus on how we can love him/her better. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus (quoting Leviticus 19:9 and 19:18) told us to love others as we would want them to love us. I can’t speak for others, but I would prefer someone not be judging my acts of love to determine their value or worth. I would prefer they love me well and accept my love in return.
I’m glad God doesn’t keep score in our relationship. If He did, I would be in big trouble! God’s love is one hundred percent and it is unconditional. The love I offer God is a fraction of what He has shown me. There is no way I could even approach a fifty-fifty split with Him. But in his grace and mercy He still loves me well. Love doesn’t always mean He does what I want or when I want or how I want. He wants the best for me and so sometimes his love is discipline or no or wait. But I know his character is perfect and his heart is for me and I never doubt, even in the most challenging circumstances, that He loves me. Jesus in teaching about God’s character and about prayer wrote that if earthly fathers know how to give their children good gifts how much more does our heavenly Father know how to give not just good gifts, but the very best gifts (Luke 11:11-13, see also my previous post discussing this passage)
When we stop keeping score or worrying about keeping score and focus on loving with all our hearts, we are set free to truly love well. It is an opportunity for us to imitate God and his love for others. It is not always easy. Human beings can be fickle and don’t always respond the way we want or expect. But when we love others well, we not only honor God by obeying his call to love, we scratch a deep itch everyone has – to be loved for who they are, warts and all. As Bill Mallonee says, “to be loved well is the best of all” (from the song “This Time Isn’t One of Them”).